Courage under Strife: the Story of my Mom

1960's Saigon, where my mother grew up.

My mom was born in the Saigon slums. Both her parents were too old to work, and her mother suffered from gambling addiction. Her family lacked money to buy food and clothing. She often skipped meals, and her father would make sandals for her using wooden blocks he found on the street.

Even though my grandparents were poor, they invested all their savings into my mom’s education. She wore the same tattered uniform for eight years, and worked by a dim lamp in her family’s cramped one-room house.

My mom grew up as the Vietnam War was raging. When Saigon fell in 1975, she lived through the subsequent food rationing, purges, and murder of ethnic minorities. She still persisted, and eventually earned a visa to study dentistry in France. In Europe, she worked multiple shifts as a housekeeper to foot her bills.

The University of Rennes.

She soon left for USC, where she juggled the demanding responsibilities of being a student and a parent: training in periodontology while flying home over weekends to be with our family.

My mom is the strongest and most amazing person I know. She’s a trailblazer in her field and a confidant and rock I can talk to about anything. As a dental surgeon, she has dedicated her life to underserved communities, treating patients who would otherwise not have means to pay for dental surgery. She treks up to UCSF each week to teach dental residents pro-bono. She taught me to be a man for others before myself, to always shoot for my dreams, to listen and learn from everyone’s stories and backgrounds, and to stand up for what’s right.

Thank you for everything, Mom. Love you.